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Rodman Williams: The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today: Response

21. A helpful discussion of this matter is to be found in the chapter, “Speaking in Tongues as ‘Sign,'” by Larry Christenson in his book, Speaking in Tongues, pp. 30-70. E.g., “To consummate one’s experience of the baptism with the Holy Spirit by speaking in tongues gives it an objectivity …regardless of feelings, that sign of the ‘new tongue’ is there to remind one in a special way that the Holy Spirit has taken up His dwelling in one’s body,” pp. 55-56. Don Basham in his book, Face Up With a Miracle (Northridge, CA: Voice Christian Publications, 1967), describing his baptism in the Spirit and tongues, says: ” …this was God moving in my life more powerfully than ever before …I had made entry into a new and deeper spiritual dimension, clearly marked by the experience of praying in a language utterly unknown to me” (p. 60). “Clearly marked” points up the significance of tongues as an objective and unforgettable sign.

22. Sometimes the statement is made that the Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, presents a different picture. In Chapter 12 Paul describes tongues as one of several apportionments of the Holy Spirit—”to another [person] various kinds of, tongues” (v. 10), and later asks, “Do all speak with tongues?” (v. 30). The implied answer is “No, not all do.” Does this contradict the accounts in Acts? Not at all, when one understands that Paul is dealing in Corinthians with ministry in the church, and how the Holy Spirit uses a diversity of gifts for building up the body. That all at Corinth are capable of speaking in tongues is evident from the words of Paul thereafter: “I want you all to speak in tongues” (1 Corinthians 14:5). But when it is a matter of the edification of the body, if all so speak it only causes confusion and disorder. The Holy Spirit therefore manifests himself variously (see 1 Corinthians 12:7): prophecy, tongues, healings, etc. Incidentally, prophecy is also listed as one of the several gifts apportioned; yet Paul makes clear that prophecy is not limited to a few: “You can all prophesy, one by one …” (1 Corinthians 14:31).

23. “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also …” Praying with (or “in”—the Greek is simply to pneumati) the spirit is unmistakably praying in a tongue.

24. Usually this expression is used in a critical fashion by those who would like to make of the renewal a kind of sensationalism or exhibitionism, as if the basic emphases were on speaking in tongues and getting others to do the same. The emphasis, of course, is not on tongues but on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the response of praise, which in becoming transcendant does move into the language of exalted utterance. The movement accordingly is “a Holy Spirit movement,” not a “tongues movement.” Incidentally, however, the labeling of the movement as “tongues” does express (what most critics do not like to admit) that tongues are universally present!

25. A.T. Robertson states that the word structure in Acts 8 “shows plainly that those who received the gift of the Holy Spirit spoke in tongues” (Word Pictures in the New Testament [New York: Harper and Brothers, 1932], III, p. 107). F.F. Bruce affirms that “the context leaves us in no doubt that the reception of the Spirit was attended by external manifestations such as had marked His descent on the earliest disciples at Pentecost” (Commentary on the Books of the Acts, “The New International Commentary on the New Testament” [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954], p. 181). Johannes Munck writes that “Simon, who by virtue of his earlier life closely observed all wondrous faculties and powers, was struck by the apostles’ ability to make the baptized prophesy and to speak in tongues by the laying on of hands” (The Anchor Bible: The Acts of the Apostles [Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., 1967], p. 75). Foakes-Jackson says that in this passage “the gift [of the Spirit] is manifested openly, possibly (though this is not stated) by glossolalia” (The Moffatt Commentary: The Acts of the Apostles [New York: Harper and Brothers, 1931], p. 73).

26. Since Luke does not actually say that when Ananias laid hands on him Saul was filled with the Holy Spirit—yet the whole context implies that Saul was so filled—it is quite possible that tongues are also implied. We have just observed the clear-cut statement in Acts 8 that the Samaritans did receive the Holy Spirit, and the strong implication that they spoke in tongues. Acts 9 is less direct on the reception of the Spirit by Saul, while strongly implying it, and has nothing as such about tongues—but Luke may be asking the reader to supply both. If both the reception of the Spirit and tongues were common knowledge and experience (as I believe they were) to Luke’s readers, he scarcely needs to repeat each time. Incidentally, this same point may be made about belief in Christ and baptism in water. Often Luke specifically mentions water baptism in connection with faith in Jesus Christ (see Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12-13, 35-38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:14-15, 31-33; 18:8; and 19:5); on other occasions he describes people coming to faith without reference to water baptism (see Acts 9:42; 11:21; 13:12, 48; 14:1; 17:12, 34). However, it is very likely that Luke would have the reader assume the occurrence of water baptism when not mentioned. Such baptism was doubtless common experience and practice in the early church.

27. See, for example, John L. Sherrill, They Speak With Other Tongues: The Story of a Reporter on the Trail of a Miracle (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964). The climax of Sherrill’s own experience was that of being prayed for to receive “the baptism in the Spirit” (p. 139). Shortly thereafter: “With a sudden burst of will I thrust my hands into the air, turned my face full upward, and at the top of my voice I shouted: ‘Praise the Lord!’ It was the floodgate opened. From deep inside me, deeper than I knew voice could go, came a torrent of joyful sound …After that one shattering effort of will, my will was released, freed to soar into union with Him. No further conscious effort was required of me at all, not even choosing the syllables with which to express my joy. The syllables were all there, ready-formed for my use, more abundant than my earth-bound lips and tongue could give shape to …And so I prayed on, laughing and free, while the setting sun shone through the window, and the stars came out” (p. 141).

28. As possibly in the case of Paul. In our present day there may be a delay, often because of fear or uncertainty. Among many people there is prejudice against tongues, and barriers of inner resistance are built up. However in view of the strong desire to respond in praise to God, and the Holy Spirit surging within, the inevitable movement is toward such transcendent speaking.

29. “The glossolalia of the early Eastern Church, as the original musical event, represents the germ cell or the original form of sung liturgical prayer …. In the sublime levitation and interweaving of the old Church tones, and even in Gregorian chant to some extent, we are greeted by an element that has its profound roots in glossolalia.” Words of Werner Meryer in Dererste Korintherbrief: Prophezei, 1945, Vol. II 122 et seq. (tr. by Arnold Bittlinger). See Sounds of Wonder (New York: Paulist Press, 1977) by Eddie Ensley, p. 117.

30. Words of St. Thomas Aquinas in his Commentary on Psalms, as quoted in Sounds of Wonder, p. 53. Ensley, in this important book, gives many instances of jubilation in the history of the Church, and states that “Indications are that jubilation is a continuation of the glossolalia of the New Testament” and the “plainsong and the musical parts of the liturgy emerged from the early practice of glossolalia” (pp. 115 and 117).

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Category: Fall 2002, Spirit

About the Author: J. Rodman Williams (1918-2008), Ph.D., is considered to be the father of renewal theology. He served as a chaplain in the Second World War, he was a church pastor, college professor, and key figure in the charismatic movement of the 1960s. Beginning in 1982, he taught theology at Regent University School of Divinity in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and became Professor of Renewal Theology Emeritus there in 2002. Author of numerous books, he is perhaps best known for his three volume Renewal Theology (Zondervan, 1996).

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